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Experts advising students against returning to their dorms
Sharon Lee, The Mike Contributor
For the 2020-21 academic year, during which most classes are taking place online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, student residences at the University of Toronto (U of T) have indicated that they are continuing their operations and have spaces available for students to live in.
Despite the residences’ assurance that their staff will increase protective measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, health experts have raised concern about the return of students to residences for the winter semester. Their concerns lie in the potential exposure and spread of the virus within residences that can endanger the health of those in the facilities.
In a recent article from the Toronto Star, U of T epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite explains her reasoning behind advising students not to return to campus residences. Tuite states that it is not the safest option for people to move from one place to another as it can contribute to the spread of the virus. “We need to minimize movement, whether that’s students coming back to campus or students who are on campus going home, it’s basically the same thing,” says Tuite in the article.
Colin Furness, a U of T infection control epidemiologist, also sees the option of living in residence as concerning, calling residences a “tinderbox.” Health expert, Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, has given examples as to how the virus may spread in a dorm room setting. Dr. Banerji says that sharing washrooms and socializing in groups are ways that COVID-19 can spread among students.
“It depends on each school and each residence, but I think, in general, a lot of these dorms are not the safest place for students to be right now,” said Dr. Banerji.
The option to stay home for online classes may not be available for some students. Some international students who have returned are faced with difficult circumstances. Residences across Ontario universities, including those at U of T, have prepared for such situations by increasing social distancing measures, implementing frequent sanitization of commonly used areas, and mandating the wearing of masks indoors. Housing services have also emphasized their support for students looking for a place to live on campus, and COVID-19 testing areas are set up in some universities for students’ use.
With an increase of daily COVID-19 cases reported in Ontario and with the ongoing lockdown issued by the provincial government, health experts advise students to remain in their own homes for the rest of the winter semester. Those in the U of T community can keep updated on the University’s resources for COVID-19 by visiting https://www.utoronto.ca/utogether.